Using Acupuncture to Successfully Treat Pain
Updated: May 6
While acupuncture can be used to treat an incredibly wide range of medical problems, it is most often used to reduce pain. How does it treat pain? Let's first talk about what exactly pain is. Without going into a huge lecture on the incredibly complex nature of pain, we can recognize that pain is the brain's interpretation of series of nerve signals triggered by either injury or tissue damage. Various terms are used to categorize types of pain including acute, chronic, somatic, visceral, referred, nociceptive, radicular, neuropathic, etc. Their intent is to ultimately create a message signaling that something unpleasant or unfavorable is happening that should be stopped to avoid further harm to the body. At the end of the day, however, the signals have to be received and interpreted by the brain. This interpretation process is fascinating in how widely variable it is among people. Emotional state, diet, immune response..... all of these factors have been proven to play a powerful role in our response to pain.
Fortunately, our bodies have a means to help manage pain. There are 3 natural pain killers we produce that can help minimize the effects of pain called endogenous opioids: enkephalin, dynorphin, and b-endorphin. They play a complex role with other neurotransmitters involved in activating the pleasure centers of our brain such as dopamine, serotonin, and GABA.
So where does acupuncture fit in? Acupuncture has been shown to have a strong influence on stimulating the release of ALL 3 endogenous opioids resulting in a significant decrease in the pain sensation. Acupuncture has also been proven to reduce inflammation. Additional studies have demonstrated acupuncture's strong influence on other "feel-good" neurotransmitters including dopamine, GABA, and serotonin. Since relationships between emotion and pain reception have already been established, this multi-pronged action of acupuncture can help explain why it is so effective in the treatment of many types of pain.